Hyperlocal social media banned in 7 districts of Haryana over Covid ‘rumors’

Chandīgarh: Fatehabad has joined half a dozen other districts in Haryana in banning hyperlocal news channels on social media, seeking to ‘protect’ people’s mental health from the effects of spreading ‘unverified’ information. ” and “misleading” on the Covid-19.

Earlier this week, the Fatehabad district administration issued orders under the Epidemic Diseases Act to completely ban social media news channels from disseminating news, the order said, which was viewed by ThePrint.

The decision came as some channels allegedly shared false information about Covid patients and the spread of the disease in those districts.

The first of these orders was issued in May at Charkhi Dadri, followed by Bhiwani, Narnaul, Karnal, Sonipat and Kaithal.

However, the journalists concerned allege that this decision is a clear attempt by the government of Manohar Lal Khattar to target the independence of the press.

Karnal reporters raised the matter with Khattar last week. While the CM assured that a policy will soon be formulated to regulate the operation of news portals and social media channels, no district has been asked to withdraw the ban, sources said.

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What the government says

Deputy Commissioner Charkhi Dadri was the first to issue an order banning such outlets on May 12. The order stated that several people were involved in spreading information on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Telegram and LinkedIn etc. It said their work amounted to “journalistic activity” subject to certain standards and requirements.

None of these channels were licensed to broadcast news and the possibility of intentionally or unintentionally broadcasting false news remained, the order said, adding that in the absence of a mechanism to enforce accountability, the administration prohibits these activities.

Other districts followed suit, with deputy commissioners issuing similarly worded orders.

One of the assistant commissioners who issued the order said the administration was receiving reports that unqualified and “sometimes even uneducated” people were traveling as self-proclaimed journalists armed only with cellphones.

“They went to Covid patients and started showing all kinds of new stories on their YouTube channels and Facebook pages. On one occasion a YouTuber went to a bad house and said a normal family was Covid positive,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.

The official said the order was intended to put an end to such “rumors”.

A senior official from Haryana’s public relations department said no media houses were named in the banning orders, adding that the aim was to enable the administration to take necessary action if rumors spread in the name of spreading information.

PC Meena, Public Relations Manager, Haryana, said a policy for social media news channels is being developed and will be finalized after consultation with all stakeholders including social media journalists .

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What journalists say

Haryana President Patrakar Sangh KB Pandit said the Deputy Commissioners issued a blanket ban instead of taking action against specific people who acted irresponsibly.

“The fact is, social media has been very active in highlighting the various flaws in government operations and that’s why such orders have been issued,” he said.

Somesh Dhaka, who runs the Live VTS Charkhi Dadri’s YouTube channel, said the deputy district commissioner had been told that social media channels were giving false information about Covid patients.

“It gave the deputy commissioner the opportunity to interfere with our work and issued the restraining orders. It was very unfair because most of us were working ethically and giving the right information to the public,” Dhaka said.

Yogesh Sood, who leads the Surya News on Sonipat’s Facebook, said the order is to ensure the media is “under the control of the administration.”

Other journalists who run hyperlocal outlets said that even if they wanted to register with the relevant authority, there was no policy under which they could.

Dhaka said his channel was already registered. “We were told government policy was going to be released soon regarding social media, but nothing came out,” he said.

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